Are you a virtue ethicist at heart?

by shminux 1 min read27th Jan 201491 comments

11


Disclaimer: I am not a philosopher, so this post will likely seem amateurish to the subject matter experts. 

LW is big on consequentialism, utilitarianism and other quantifiable ethics one can potentially program into a computer to make it provably friendly. However, I posit that most of us intuitively use virtue ethics, and not deontology or consequentialism. In other words, when judging one's actions we intuitively value the person's motivations over the rules they follow or the consequences of said actions. We may reevaluate our judgment later, based on laws and/or actual or expected usefulness, but the initial impulse still remains, even if overridden. To quote Casimir de Montrond, "Mistrust first impulses; they are nearly always good" (the quote is usually misattributed to Talleyrand).

Some examples:

  • Eliezer in a facebook post linked the article When Doing Good Means You’re Bad, which points out that people taking commission to raise a lot of money for charity are commonly considered less moral than those who raise much less but are not paid to do so ("tainted altruism"). 
  • This was brought up at a meetup: a pregnant woman in a dire financial situation who decides to have an abortion because she does not want a burden of raising a baby is judged harsher than a woman in a similar situation whose motivation is to avoid inflicting harsh life on the prospective child.
  • In real-life trolley problems even the committed utilitarians (like commanders during war time) are likely to hesitate before sacrificing lives to save more.

I am not sure how to classify religious fanaticism (or other bigotry), but it seems to require a heavy dose of virtue ethics (feeling righteous), in addition to following the (deontological) tenets of whichever belief, with some consequentialism (for the greater good) mixed in.

When I try to introspect my own moral decisions (like whether to tell the truth, or to cheat on a test, or to drive over the speed limit), I can usually find a grain of virtue ethics inside. It might be followed or overridden, sometimes habitually, but it is always there. Can you?

 

11